A Man of Many Talents
Dr. Thomas Kelso, a resident of St. James, has a dual career as surgeon and novelist.
Orthopedic surgeon Thomas Kelso says he and Mark Thurman, the protagonist in the mystery thriller series Kelso has written, are not the same person. Yet both are orthopedic surgeons, served in the Navy and have a special interest in equine physiology.
“I certainly draw upon my life experiences to create my stories, and I like to bring an element of authenticity, but Mark Thurman is totally fictional,” Kelso says.
Kelso admits he has studied three-dimensional bone grafting, as heroine Claire Hodgson does in the trilogy, but he has never been in a gun fight, involved with espionage or sought by terrorists, yet he understands the genre. Fractured, the first book in the Mark Thurman series, was a finalist in the 2019 Silver Falchion Award in the thriller category at the Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference. In 2020 the series’ second book Hyperion’s Fracture, won the award.
“That was a complete shock,” Kelso says and praises his wife, Vicky, for being a superb editor. “When I got the email (that I won), it was on a par with me getting accepted to medical school. It was a validation of what I had been working for.”
He plans to enter the third book in the series, Stability Island, in the competition as well.
While receiving the writing award was exciting, Kelso says that being a board-certified orthopedist is his biggest accomplishment.
“What gives me gratification is day-to-day taking care of my patients,” he says, adding that he is overwhelmed by patients’ transformation after surgery. “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me feel. That’s the most significant, gratifying thing I get out of orthopedics.”
Kelso performs total knee, hip and shoulder joint replacements but favors hip because recovery is short, about six weeks. “Knees take a while to heal,” he says. “The first two months are rough.”
Writing a novel or being a surgeon were not Kelso’s goals while growing up the oldest of four and a Navy brat, the son of Admiral Frank Kelso.
“I always thought I was going to be a lawyer,” he says.
It wasn’t until his senior year at Virginia Tech, where he majored in political science and minored in English, that the medical profession attracted his attention. He took an elective course in exercise physiology, and “I became obsessed with writing about the body, which propelled me to study physiology and biochemistry,” he says.
Another life-changing event occurred that year. “Vicky and I had classes in the same building, but I didn’t meet her formally until summer school.”
“It was like love at first sight,” Vicky says. “We met at a party, and we talked forever.”
They were engaged and married within six months.
At the time Kelso believed he would be a professor in physiology and began that journey at Washington State University School of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman, Washington. He earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. and explains why horses play a major role in his novels.
“We had a stable of thoroughbreds that were our experimental subjects,” he says. “I was around horses for three years before I went to medical school, so that’s how I acquired the knowledge of equine physiology.”
However, he began to envision a different career.
“When I was with those veterinarians, I saw what it was like to take care of patients,” Kelso says.
They impressed him to the extent that he decided to take the medical college admissions tests. He was accepted at several schools, but money was an obstacle, so he sent an application to the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. When he received the scholarship, he chose University of Maryland School of Medicine and completed his residency at Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia. He had an obligation to pay back the Navy and spent nine years of active duty in various capacities. These included medical officer on the USS Virginia, director of residency research at the Naval Medical Center Orthopedic Department in Portsmouth and U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group in Virginia Beach.
Once a civilian, Kelso, Vicky and their children — daughter, Tory, and son, Frank — moved to Springfield, Missouri, where Kelso was on staff at Mercy Hospital, a Level 1 Trauma Center. He developed a practice specializing in shoulder replacements, but after 10 years the couple missed family and decided to move back east. Brunswick County was an attraction because they had vacationed at Holden Beach and Sunset Beach multiple times. Kelso accepted the invitation to join a practice in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the couple found their ideal home at St. James.
Energetic and gregarious, Kelso doesn’t only fill his days with surgery and writing. He says he played the guitar in high school and started taking lessons on his acoustic guitar 10 years ago. “I’m not very good at it,” he says.
He also spends his free time riding his bicycle. “I ride 15 to 30 miles at a time, three to five times a week, depending on the weather,” he says.
Another activity is making appearances to promote his books. Recently he signed copies at Sunset River Gallery in Calabash. Bob and Maria Blanchette of Calabash chose Stability Island. “He’s our doctor,” Bob says. “We read his previous two books.”
“He’s my hero,” Maria adds. “I couldn’t walk before my surgery.”
Pam Hutchinson of Ocean Isle Beach chose Stability Island as well and says she got it for her 93-year-old mother who lives in Maryland then points to Hyperion’s Fracture. “She’s a horse fanatic and loved this one.”
Retiring from his medical career isn’t in Kelso’s near future.
He continues to practice at EmergeOrtho in Shallotte and Brunswick Forest, at Dosher Hospital in Southport and Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center in Bolivia. However, writing also dominates his goals. He has started an outline for another book that may not be part of the Mark Thurman series.
If he has any regrets, he says it’s that “I spent so much time with my career, I didn’t spend enough time with my children when they were growing up.” Also, he adds that he wished he’d started writing before 2014.
“He always had writing in the back of his mind,” Vicky says. “I knew he had the ability to do it.”
Want to meet Thomas Kelso?
Register for one of these events:
January 10, 2023
The Moveable Feast, Pawleys Island, South Carolina
February 9, 2023
Coffee with the Authors
Sunset River Gallery, Calabash,